Potential in innovations of fast-growing broadleaves

Building blocks of wood. Photo.
Photo: Congerdesign, Pixabay


Stina Johannesson

What are the key drivers and hinders for innovations based on fast-growing broadleaves? And what makes these innovations more or less successful? These are some of the questions investigated in the research project of PhD student Derek Garfield.

Derek Garfield and his supervisor professor Vilis Brukas, both working for the Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre (SLU) and within Trees For Me, have recently conducted 15 interviews with actors from the forest sector who have incorporated fast-growing broadleaves into their business activities. All of the interviewees were positive towards fast-growing broadleaves and their expected contributions to ecological and economic value going forward, though several barriers were identified as inhibiting the development of this niche, in particular in the short term.

Incentives and risk appetite affect investments

“The situation of birch in particular was often characterized as being a ‘hen-and-egg problem’, in other words a vicious cycle within the supply and demand dynamic. Neither suppliers nor producers have been willing to make large enough initial investments to overcome the opportunity cost of shifting towards greater use of fast-growing broadleaves that might induce further development and the creation of stable value chains”, says Derek Garfield.

The researchers have interviewed a variety of business actors, including tree nurseries, large forest companies, beverage producers processing birch sap and a plywood producer, to name a few.

“Our interview data analysis is still in the early stages and there is more to learn, but we are able to see that there is a lot of innovation ongoing within our group of actors that could stimulate growth of the fast-growing broadleaf niche over the long term”, Derek Garfield says.

From products to organisational changes

Through the project the researchers aim to reveal what different kinds of innovation with fast-growing broadleaves is taking place within the sector and consider how these serve to develop the forestry niche of these tree species. The variety of innovations span the full spectrum of innovation types, including products, processes, and organisational changes. The latter include implementation of forest conversion goals to transition some spruce-dominated forests to birch-dominated and strategic support of birch breeding programmes, which have been implemented by several of the large forest owning companies.

“This could be understood as signalling a strong positive expectation for the niche of fast-growing broadleaves and a greater availability of hardwood raw material in the future”, Derek Garfield says.

His supervisor Vilis Brukas argues that mapping innovations along the forest value chains expose the potential for sustainability transitions on a larger scale, and the researchers will look into how future forest policy instruments can contribute to promoting fast-growing broadleaves.

“Despite the importance of the forest sector, the research on forest-based innovations in Sweden has been scarce. We intend to shed light on hinders and drivers for larger take up of fast-growing broadleaves and to inspire forest sector entrepreneurs for novel ideas and approaches to their business models”, Vilis Brukas concludes.

Page manager: stina.johannesson@slu.se